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Authoritarianism Rising on International Day of Democracy

By Sep 15, 2020June 17th, 2021No Comments

NEW YORK (September 15, 2020) — On the International Day of Democracy, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) remains strongly committed to its mission to promote and protect human rights in...

NEW YORK (September 15, 2020) — On the International Day of Democracy, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) remains strongly committed to its mission to promote and protect human rights in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes, and unite people in the common cause of defending and promoting liberal democracy. 

“To those with the great fortune to live under democratic regimes, the International Day of Democracy is a reminder not to take your freedom for granted, and to do what you can to defend it,” said HRF chairman Garry Kasparov. 

HRF is one of the few international organizations that focus exclusively on promoting human rights in countries that suffer untold repression and countless systemic injustices under the yoke of tyrannical regimes. We believe that our resources are most needed and make a greater impact in countries where independent media, pro-democracy activists, think tanks, opposition parties, and NGOs are either banned or under permanent threat as a result of the government being held by a fully dictatorial or competitive authoritarian regime. 

In 2020, the world has seen declines in democracy and reasons for alarm. Authoritarian regimes have used the current pandemic as an excuse to tighten their grip on power and create environments hostile toward dissent. For example, the regimes in Cambodia and Hungary weaponized disinformation laws to arrest opposition who discuss COVID-19 under the pretense of curbing the spread of false news. Earlier this year, in Morocco there was an attempt to push through legislation restricting free speech on social media, putting the LGBT community at increased risk of social and legal persecution. Burundi also held an unfree and unfair election.

The regimes in China and Vietnam have taken advantage of the world’s fixation on the coronavirus to make politically-motivated arrests, escalating their crackdown on dissidents in Hong Kong and Vietnam respectively. Meanwhile, prisoners of conscience in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes — who are harshly punished for merely criticizing their government — remain locked up in overcrowded, unsanitary, and abusive environments, where they face increased risks of contracting COVID-19. 

In general, the rise of authoritarianism is one of the most pressing global challenges. According to HRF’s regime analysis, 95 countries in the world are non-democratic. In other words, 54% of the world’s population — 4,203,724,799 people — are living under some form of authoritarian regime. HRF classifies every country in the world as governed by a democratic, competitive authoritarian, or fully authoritarian (or dictatorial) regime, following the definitions suggested by renowned political scientists Lucan A. Way and Steven Levitsky. According to research conducted by HRF, there are 41 competitive authoritarian and 54 fully authoritarian regimes worldwide.

Through its research, HRF has discovered a shocking correlation between authoritarianism and a variety of global crises. 

For example, 97% of the world’s refugees come from countries ruled by authoritarian regimes, while 23 out of the top 30 poorest countries are ruled by authoritarian regimes. 18 out of the 20 countries with the worst access to basic drinking water are ruled by authoritarian regimes, and 26 out of the 33 active military conflicts are either inside authoritarian regimes, or caused by authoritarian states or ideologies. 

Furthermore, authoritarianism is one of the structural problems at the root of human trafficking. Authoritarian regimes lack rule of law, and tend to encourage corruption — factors that allow traffickers to commit crimes with impunity. HRF’s analysis of the 2020 edition of the US Department of States’ Trafficking in Persons report found that 91% of the highest-ranking countries in efforts to combat trafficking are democratic, while 90% of the lowest-ranked countries are ruled by authoritarian regimes.

This month, on September 24 and 25, HRF is hosting the Oslo Freedom Forum to give the important cause of democracy and political freedom a platform, and to empower activists to fight back as democracy comes under threat around the world. The event will be livestreamed at oslofreedomforum.com starting at 9:00 am ET.

This year’s OFF speakers include Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, Uyghur journalist Gulchehra Hoja, Thai opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Gambian beauty queen, sexual assault survivor, and anti-rape activist Fatou Toufah Jallow, exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law, North Korean defector Eunhee Park, Sudanese doctor and pro-democracy activist Mohamed Nagi Alassam, Russian investigative journalist Lyudmila Savchuk, Cuban environmentalist and LGBTQ+ rights activist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, “Who Owns Huawei?” author and professor Christopher Balding, Oscar-winning film director Bryan Fogel, and Iranian journalist and human rights activist Masih Alinejad


The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For press inquiries, please contact [email protected].